Rural funding withdrawal would be ‘devastating blow’

UUP leader Robin Swann
UUP leader Robin Swann

Rural unionist communities are being damaged by the continued political impasse at Stormont, UUP leader Robin Swann has warned.

The North Antrim MLA said that – in the absence of an Executive – a major scheme supporting rural unionist communities along the border is coming to an end, as there is no agriculture minister in place to extend the contract.

Mr Swann added: “From 2012 there has been a widely recognised problem that people from the Protestant, unionist or loyalist (PUL) community living in rural areas along the border, needed additional support to access funding and that they especially needed assistance with capacity building.

“As a result, four areas across Northern Ireland were provided an additional PUL support element to specifically address the under representation in funding applications and awards.”

Mr Swann said his party has been contacted by numerous people from across the four areas who claimed that the separate PUL aspect of the funding had now been left out from the latest tendering process.

And he has learned that any decision to extend the additional support further would be for an incoming minister to make.

“Given the fact that there simply isn’t a minister in place, DAERA told me it is for that reason the PUL support has not been included in the current contract, which is out to tender,” he added.

“If the funding is withdrawn it will immediately see well respected and efficient local organisations having to drastically scale back their services, possibly close offices, and almost certainly lose staff.

“This would come as a devastating blow to the local communities that they assist.”

Co-ordinator of one such project, David McMullan of Co Armagh Community Development, told the News Letter that the withdrawal of the funding would result in the loss of two part-time staff from his organisation.